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CHAPTER IX THE TEMPTATION
It needed no great knowledge of Indian character and Indian ways to make clear to the Englishmen all that was implied in this story that Thunder-maker had recited. Nor had they any reason to doubt that he had spoken the truth, for the evident pleasure that it gave him to watch the effect of his revelation was almost a sufficiently convincing argument in itself.

Of course Thunder-maker had only the evidence of his ears to inform him, for the tent was in darkness, the convenience of lamps not being a usage of the redskins, who either retire to sleep at nightfall, or rely upon camp-fires for illumination. But the Medicine Man could hear his companions give slight gasps of horror when the climax was reached. His ears were quick to interpret the faintest sounds of pleasure, pain, or surprise.[Pg 96]

The trio sat in silence for a time, until at last the soundless night became too oppressive, and Holden was forced to speak his thoughts.

"Why have you told us of this, Thunder-maker?" he asked. "Were you sent to us by Mighty Hand?"

The Indian made an impatient movement of his body, and grunted meaningly at the question.

"Mighty Hand send Thunder-maker?" he exclaimed, in an undertone that conveyed a sense of the uttermost contempt for the chief of the Dacotahs. "My white brother speak foolish words—the words of women and papooses. Mighty Hand do the wish of Thunder-maker. The chief of medicine no slave to run when any man speak."

"Then why have you come to us to-night?" urged Holden.

"It was not out of friendship for us," added Arnold.

"Huh! It true what the redmen say, that the pale-face have heart of buffalo skin that keep out the love of brother," responded the Indian, in fawning tones that caused the listeners to feel as though they would have gladly kicked the speaker out from the tent. There was low[Pg 97] cunning in his voice—such cringing craft as all brave men naturally despise. But it was the instinct of both to draw out the visitor's confidence. It was possibly their only hope of learning the truth of their position, thereby enabling them to make plans for their future actions.

"The redman love the pale-face and would be friend to him," Thunder-maker went on. "So he come to tell his brothers what they did not know. Dacotahs fools, Dacotahs believe foolish stories, and—Thunder-maker can lead their feet by what trail he will."

"H'm. That was plain enough this afternoon when you played with those rattlesnakes," remarked Arnold, at which the Indian laughed quietly.

"Dacotahs fools. But white men wise. They see not with the eyes of redmen. But Dacotahs might be great people if Mighty Hand were in Happy Hunting-ground."[2]

"But what has all this got to do with us?" asked Holden.

"My white brothers in great danger. In a few more suns cruel fire burn beautiful bodies. But——"[Pg 98]

"Well—but?"

"Thunder-maker could save—white brothers—from fire?"

"Oh, that's it, is it? That's what you are driving at, you cunning old serpent?" said Arnold, in accents that were as little complimentary as the words. "You want us to buy our lives for money? Well, how much do you wish?"

"My white brothers have papooses, they say to Mighty Hand?"

"Yes; two boys in a camp by Crane Creek."

"It would gladden the eyes of the pale-faces to see their papooses by another sun?"

"We would do much to go back to them, for they must be sad at the absence of their fathers," said the elder man.

"Then it may be as the pale-face wish," resumed the Medicine Man. "Thunder-maker can save his white brothers, and he will——"

"If you will, there is nothing that we will not do, within our power, to repay you," said Holden, wrongly anticipating the motive of the Indian. "We can give you many dollars, and will give you blankets and weapons for hunting."

"That is good," returned the redskin quietly. "But—Thunder-maker no wish blankets—dollars,[Pg 99] He have many—many." Then he lowered his voice to speak in deeper tones of confidence. "Let the pale-face be patient, and listen to the words of the redman. Then he will understand how it may be that he look not upon the face of the fire.

"The Dacotahs foolish. They see white men as spirits that came out of Silver Waters. And Mighty Hand foolish too. He believe that fiery totem speak—that fiery totem call water spirits to torture. Foolish redmen! Foolish chief! But Thunder-maker would see his people a great people. He would see his tribe wise as the fox and brave as the great bear. He would see another chief to rule them—he would see another wear the robes of a chief! So he would blind the eyes of his people. He would say to them: 'Children, you are foolish. The spirits that come from the Silver Waters are not the spirits that the totem called. They great spirits sent to you by Manito to tell you how to be a mighty tribe again.' Then great medicine will be done, and Thunder-maker will ask the pale-faces to speak what Manito has told them.

"Then the pale-faces will tell the Dacotahs: 'Slay Mighty Hand! Let him not see another[Pg 100] sun, and place the chief's robes on Thunder-maker; tie the chief's feathers in the hair of Thunder-maker; write on Thunder-maker's breast the picture of the sacred totem.' Then will the Dacotahs believe. Then shall Thunder-maker be chief of the Dacotahs, and—the pale-faces shall return in peace to their tents. I have spoken."

The Indian paused, but, no comment being immediately forthcoming, he resumed quickly, being warmed to excitement by treacherous hopes—

"Then it shall be well with my white brothers. No fire shall have their white bodies——"

"And if we—refuse—to do—this?" questioned Arnold slowly and seriously, and his companion added: "Yes, if we refuse—what then?"

"The pale-faces will not refuse," returned the Indian firmly. The savage mind could not conceive such a possibility as refusal to purchase freedom at any cost, no matter how despicable that cost might be. "The pale-faces will not refuse," he repeated. "The flames hurt much, and white men die slow, slow as tongue of fire lick their bodies. The pale-faces not refuse——"

"But we do!" exclaimed Arnold angrily, as he[Pg 101] raised his voice to a louder pitch, now that the first need for caution was past. "You know little of the pale-faces, as you call them, if you think that they would do the deeds of dogs to save themselves from pain. Manito, to us, is God—He whom we serve and honour; He whom we love. Do you think that we could dare to live another hour if we knew that we had pretended to be sent by Him—and so delude foolish people? No! A thousand times no! Even if we were to see our sons dying before our eyes, and knew that one such false word would save them and us, I tell you, liar and cheat that you are, that word would never be spoken! We would be as dumb as the trees of the forest!"

So moved was Arnold by the indignation that he felt at Thunder-maker's treacherous proposal that he rose as he spoke and poured out the torrent of his anger with reckless vehemence. Holden also got up, anticipating that the Indian might attempt some deed of revenge, seeing that he had displayed his hand to the sight of enemies who might make much of this knowledge in an appeal to Mighty Hand.
DACOTAHS! DACOTAHS!

DACOTAHS! DACOTAHS! COME QUICK TO THE HELP OF
THUNDER-MAKER! HE IS BURNING WITHIN WITH FIRE.
QUICK! QUICK!

But Thunder-maker was too cunning to risk[Pg 102] violent measures with two such powerful antagonists. He merely waited until Arnold had finished his tirade. Then he suddenly leaped out from the tent, threw himself upon the ground, and uttered wild screams that immediately roused the entire camp.

"Dacotahs! Dacotahs! Come quick to the help of Thunder-maker! The evil spirits of the water have witched him! He is burning within with fire. Quick! quick!"

Instantly the camp was in an uproar, and men came rushing from all directions, bearing arms and torches that they had snatched from the still burning camp-fires. And before the Englishmen were well aware of the sudden change of affairs, a score of hands had seized them, and many strands of thongs bound them helpless, hand and foot.


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